My Little Mutoscope
I found out at BoingBoing that my own town of Durham NC has, at the School of Science and Mathematics, an Exhibit of Optical Toys. It reminded me of a wonderful project I did with my dad when I was a kid: after we saw a mutoscope in a museum, we went home and built our own.
The pictures here are from Marvin's Marvelous Mechanical Museum. The mutoscope was a precurser to the movies. Cards were mounted on belts which were affixed to cylinders which revolved - at first, they were hand cranked, and later, thay had motors.
By the way, even back then soft porn was a very profitable genre for the moving picture people - if you search for "mutoscope" you'll find a lot of girlie cards...
The mutoscope innards you see here are from a much more commercial model than the one we saw but it gives you an idea.
The one at the museum exhibit, after which we modeled our home-made version, had a cylinder about eight inches in diameter, mounted vertically, with lots and lots of little cards attached to a belt attached to the cylinder so the cards bristled like a Rolodex. (Each card progresses the visual story.)
My dad showed me how to cut up a cookie tin with snips to make the cylinder. We rooted around in the basement to find scraps of every whatever to put the rest of the thing together. Some soldering was involved, which I thought was really really cool.
Some mutoscopes are hand-cranked but my dad helped me rig up a motor so mine would grind around on its own. He had a degree in mechanical and electrical engineering from MIT so he was very well qualified to help out. My dad was not much of a talker or a hugger, so the projects we did together are my very best memories of him.
The project was totally fun though it took a really, really long time to draw all those cards and attach them to the belt. And they fell off fairly frequently.
I was still a home-made-animation fan later in life: for a couple years I mass-produced greeting-card flipbooks and sold them at fairs.
I suppose if I were a kid these days, I would be doing flash animation like my nephew Nicholas. It's not really the same thing, though.
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